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BEANY NEWS •  4 NOVEMBER 2018 • 4 MIN READ

Accountants embrace positive disruption

The pace of change has continued to accelerate since last year's Top 30 research and New Zealand accounting firms are not only adjusting, they are radically remodelling themselves, their technology and their services.

Last year a few firms were clear leaders in these changes, but in 2018 what we call "positive disruption" has broken out all over.

The opportunities of cloud computing are now mainstream, both for use within firms and by clients. Many firms are upskilling staff to deliver certified advice on the implementation and use of systems such as Xero and MYOB among others.

In the background, Inland Revenue's platform transformations are delivering more challenges and disruption – and automating once manual processes.

Our research shows cloud accounting has been joined by other capabilities, including automation, analytics, mobility, and artificial intelligence, enabling a radical revisioning of what it means to be an accounting firm and an accounting professional.

Firms are moving further up the value chain to deliver real-time advice while automating or outsourcing manual processes. They are not just reskilling staff in technology, but in the kinds of soft skills required to be true business partners – creativity, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

Specialisation is also evident, as firms guide clients with training and through complex deals, finance, the sale or transfer of businesses, HR issues and customer relationship management.

Some are even taking Kiwi DIY to the next level, developing their own software applications and platforms to drive engagement, automation and value for clients.

As well as using Xero for practice management, Te Aroha-based Diprose Miller has developed its own in-house budget tools for business and farming.

"This includes a custom budget comparison tool to compare milk company payout structures and milk curves, which is very useful," said director Nigel McWilliam.

"We are also developing API tools that link with Xero to enhance work-papers and data analysis."

The shift to development happened four years ago when the firm hired a recent Waikato IT graduate part time. That's now a full-time IT project management role and development has never stopped.

"There have been a lot of unintended benefits," McWilliam said. "We're really ramping up and it's enjoyable too."

New-model firms such as Wellington-based Outside and Hawkes Bay's Beany are being born agile.

Outside chief executive Cameron Goldsmid said the firm built its practice from the bottom up to be mobile and "proactively reactive", giving advice about new Xero add-ons, for instance, before it has been asked.

"We invest time into researching and trialling new technology developments," Goldsmid said. "If there's not a tech solution in the market that achieves the outcome we want, we have it built for us."

Outside is working with an Auckland-based job management and workflow software specialist EasyForms on a couple of new projects, Goldsmid said.

"We use technology to make our back-end happen as quickly as possible so we can spend more time face-to-face with our clients."

Similarly and with help from Callaghan Innovation, Beany coded new software which it says does 90 per cent of the work that accountants used to do, allowing its people to focus on the relationship and advice.  

"Our software acts as an intermediary between client and Beany, said CEO Sue de Bievre. "It is fully integrated with Xero, the Companies Office, Workflow Max, our support desk and the CRM so we can use it to maximise our communications with the client.

"We also use it to manage workflow to our accountants and to market the business."

At the top end of town, digital technology is allowing PwC to help small business owners, developing Cashflow Coach to provide New Zealand SMEs with "on the go" six-week personalised cash flow predictions.

"Business owners can connect Cashflow Coach to their cloud accounting package, like Xero for example, and it uses machine learning and AI to provide a quick and easy view of their cash position over the next month. All from their smartphone." said Scott McLiver, PwC's global lead of digital innovation for entrepreneurial and private business.

PwC has also developed a crisis management team to anticipate and respond to unwelcome events such as malware attacks and cyber-crime quickly, effectively and discreetly.

Rolling out robotic process automation software for clients has enabled PwC to solve complex problems and deliver efficiencies in areas such as accounts payable, invoice processing, payment reconciliation, and insurance processes.

PwC's Halo artificial intelligence and augmented reality platform helps unlock patterns and trends for clients and drive audit efficiencies.

"Halo has created major opportunities for us to continually meet the changing needs of our clients and to reshape the assurance landscape by opening up new forms of assurance and audit - such as real-time assurance," said Andrew Holmes, PwC New Zealand's data assurance leader.

Originally Published by Stuff – 4 November 2018

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